Another one bites the dust

By Glenys Christian

In Community5 Minutes
Amelia Earhart? No, just the author at Fieldays in the 1980s after her Tiger Moth flight.

Like climbing to the rim of a volcano and peering over the edge, nothing can prepare a first-time visitor to Fieldays for the sprawling Mystery Creek site. My first awe-struck view was way back in 1980 when paper tickets had to be bought at kiosks at the top of the hill. Paved roads were few and far between and portaloos even thinner on the ground.

Each year there seemed to be a new food offering which had visitors queuing for a sample so they didn’t miss out on what minor sustenance was available. One year it was Space Dogs which, as I recall, were thick slices of luncheon sausage dipped in batter and deep fried. So desperate were we for food they could have been the finest French cuisine!

There were formalities of sorts; always an official opening, awards ceremonies, a brass band performance. The booming voice of an announcer periodically interrupted the static of the sound system to alert parents to lost children as well as giving number plates of incorrectly parked cars.

But the whole point of going was meeting people and so much could be gauged about how farmers were feeling. Were they happy or down in the dumps? Were they spending or leaving their chequebooks (remember them?) resolutely at home? Were they optimistically looking for new ideas which could improve onfarm efficiency or did they simply want a day out?

Those on the stands were there for the long haul, from the excitement of the first few inquiries or sales, then the ticking off of the hours and days of repeated questions, answers, details given out and gathered in.

Free samples were eagerly snapped up, especially by the hordes of Waikato school kids in uniform, and guest speakers or celebrities (not even known as such back then!) were always a major drawcard.

Then there were the gimmicks. I happily took a buzz over the site in the passenger seat of a Tiger Moth, courtesy of a fertiliser company back in the 1980s and (same company, different year) my only ever balloon flight.

As is often the case it wasn’t the faultless things, such as the well-organised International Visitor Centre hostesses serving cheese and kiwifruit toasted sandwiches (delicious), that are best remembered. One year an on-site tractor was started while in gear and ploughed into a group having breakfast in the next door tent. Another year a crane toppled, fortunately as most visitors were heading home, miraculously causing no injuries or damage.

Prime Minister Rob Muldoon announced the 1984 snap election late one night when Fieldays was in full swing, causing a lot of rushing about the next day to get up with the play.

Labour’s Associate Minister of Agriculture, the late and always affable Ralph Maxwell, was at a later Fieldays threatened with physical violence by a rural publication editor at the top table of a dinner it hosted where the idea was supposed to be celebration not decapitation!

Back for only a day this year many of the sights were just the same – the orange Gallagher stock sticks and most visitors’ uniform of black rainwear over dark trousers and Red Bands topped off by a beanie. The mingled smells were the same too – eau de mud, wood chips and cow manure.

But just to prove you can always teach an old dog new tricks I learned how to carry out chest compressions on a dummy in the Hauora Taiwhenua Health and Wellbeing Hub, keeping to the somewhat inappropriate beat of “Another One Bites the Dust” playing on the instructing nurse’s cellphone.